creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

9 Mar 2011

The Magician - Michael Scott

This second installment of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel picks up right where the first one ended; the twins, Nicholas Flamel, and Scathach are in Paris, where the famous Niccolo Machiavelli is yet another agent of the Dark Elders.
There's plenty of nonstop action, magic, mythological references, you know the drill.
Also, LOOK, IT'S AN AMAZING COVER! With great symbolism, and foreshadowing of the story-arc and stuff!
Now, about the story itself: to be fair, it's a perfectly adequate novel - but I can't help but get annoyed at the obviousness of the identities of the "good"/"bad" guys. Seriously, in this book series every character's use of magic projects their smelly auras everywhere - and by "smelly" I mean that characters can literally smell which characters are supposed to be evil (yum, sulfur! Snakes! Delicious smells, I'm told.), and which are on the "good" side (peppermint, vanilla, oranges, and lavender? Seriously, it's like a fancy organic soap shop, in there!). Although this technique is convenient if you want to expose the content of the character of these characters, it does rob the novel of possible nuances about morality and things; it just pushes them all into definite and sharply defined moral categories, with very little room for subtlety.
Oh well, it's just a YA novel, I'm told; and this review-type of thing is just a half-assed string of words.

24 Feb 2011

Zombies vs Unicorns - edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

This anthology is composed of short stories that are either about zombies (braaaaaiiins!), or unicorns (aka horses with horns that, in one story in particular, have farts that smell like flowers), and sometimes even both (these stories are usually filed under the "unicorn" stories, though, because let's face it, zombies are already awesome on their own - they don't need extra supernatural help). All written by a bunch of great writers, including Cassandra Clare and Scott Westerfeld, whose novels I enjoy very much and who were both members of Team Zombie. Yeah, zombie stories in general are just better than unicorn stories, with their dystopian elements and whatnot.

I must admit, though, that some unicorn stories were better than I expected - The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund was probably my favorite unicorn story, probably because its unicorns were deadly predators rather than fawning pictures of perfection. An honourable mention goes out to Kathleen Duey, whose story was a first-person narration by a very creepy unicorn. It  really creeped me out.

My all-around favorite story of the bunch (and favorite zombie story to boot) was definitely Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson, though; it featured a partial zombification caused by a prion (yay, science!), characters that don't necessarily fit typical, expected paradigms (yay, non-heteronormativity!), and tons of references to some of my favorite music (yay, Arctic Monkeys!).

So yeah, I enjoyed this anthology. And for future reference, here are all the authors included in the anthology (why should I write their names down when I can just type them up, leave them here and check back later when I'll want to read new stuff/when I won't be swamped in projects and lab reports?):

Team Zombie (aka TEAM AWESOME):

  • Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Carrie Ryan
  • Maureen Johnson
  • Scott Westerfeld
  • Cassandra Clare
  • Libba Bray
Team Unicorn:
  • Garth Nix
  • Naomi Novik
  • Margo Lanagan
  • Diana Peterfreund
  • Meg Cabot
  • Kathleen Duey

Hey, look, there's a short promo film here! It features the - pretty epic, I must admit - cover art that's under the black cover for the cover (I'm thinking about the hardcover version, here. Wait, did I even make sense?). Anyways, the cover art's great!

16 Feb 2011

City of Glass - Cassandra Clare

In this third installment of The Mortal Instruments trilogy-thing-that's-over-three-books-now-and-will-probably-be-six-books-I-think?, we get the Epic Battle that we'd all been waiting for ever since we learned that Valentine (Clary's and Jace's father, who is plotting against the good guys) was still alive, back in the first book. In this novel, however, our protagonists spend very little time in New York City; rather, the bulk of the action takes place in Alicante, the (magical?) capital of Idris, the Shadowhunter country.
Also, we learn new things about Clary's past and relatives (some of which were hinted at in the previous books, and some of which WOAH THAT WAS UNEXPECTED. Not unwelcome, but very unexpected.), and we finally learn about the third Mortal Instrument (remember, the first book was about the Mortal Cup? And the second one involved the Mortal Sword? Well, astute readers will finally have their suspicions confirmed/blasted to pieces about the mirror. Wait, that should have been the Mirror - you can't forget the capitalization.).
As for who is gracing the cover art - I'll let you figure it out. And no, it's neither Simon nor Alec (yep, it's a new character - and I won't say anything more because SPOILERS!)
So yeah, I really liked this book, as well as the overall series; it's a fun, easy, action-packed and emotionally rollercoaster-ish read.

9 Feb 2011

Intrigues - Mercedes Lackey

In this second installment of The Collegium Chronicles (which I believe will be a trilogy? I'm not sure.), our protagonist (Mags) is angsty, feels out-of-place, and learns more about his tragic past (by which I mean he finally finds out something about who his parents were. Did I mention he's an orphan who grew up in horrific conditions in a child-labour mine?).
Yeah, parts of it reminded me very much of the DRAMA! of being a young teenager (I'm talking about bieng a 13-15 year old, when having a fight with your best friends meant that everyone got really harsh with each other, and you wanted to run away/die afterwards).
Honestly, I thought this book was just okay; although I guess that if I were still in my I-love-every-novel-and-anthology-there-exists-about-Valdemar! phase, I'd have enjoyed it a lot more.
So yeah, even though it isn't marketed as a YA novel, in my opinion it definitely should be.

8 Feb 2011

Continuity Errors - Steven Moffat

Do you know about Doctor Who?
Or do you just generally like stories about time travel and stuff?
Well, in either case I think you'll like this.
I know I did.

30 Jan 2011

Easy A - That 2010 movie

It's a comedy involving high schoolers and classic literature. The literary references aren't Shakespearian (it's actually American literature, mostly The Scarlet Letter and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - incidentally, two books that I have not read), though, so I can't say it's a Shakespearian teen comedy, but it's pretty close.
Now, there are many things that were very fun about this movie:

  • our main protagonist is witty and hilarious
  • seriously, her parents are also hilarious
  • yes, I actually giggled out loud at many points in the movie - which is actually a pretty rare thing to happen, especially if I'm watching an intentional comedy. So props to that
There were, however, things that I really didn't like about it:
  • firstly, the plot is rather ludicrous - although if you keep in mind that it is entirely from our protagonist's perspective, it makes more sense
  • I mean, seriously, do high schoolers really care about who is allegedly having sex with who? Oh, right - of course they do, it's just one of those thing that I never really got. Yaaay.
  • Most characters aren't very dimensional? They usually have mostly one or two dimensions. But that could be chalked up to the fact that it's all from the protagonist's perspective.
  • And the "best friend"'s attitude towards our protagonist (after the whole scandal thing took off) was infuriating.
So yeah, I enjoyed this movie, even if I found it a bit problematic at times. 

22 Jan 2011

The Red Pyramid - Rick Riordan

This Rick Riordan novel isn't about Percy Jackson or Greek mythology - surprising, right? And it's also a pretty hefty book, with a 514-page long hardcover version - shocking!
It's very good, though; it's all about Carter and Sadie, two first-person narrators and young teenaged siblings whose parents were excellent magicians who followed the Egyptian mythological traditions. And yes, Egyptian mythology and deities are involved - fun!
Everything takes place in the same world as the Percy Jackson series (you can tell by the passing references to the Greek gods), but in different locations. For example, a big chunk of the action takes place in New York City, but in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, since Manhattan's under the control (or is it jurisdiction? I'm not sure) of gods other than the Egyptian ones. And if that wasn't a reference to Mount Olympus over the Empire State Building, I'm a lemur.
Oh, and I'm thinking that that world is in grave peril a lot of the time. Seriously, it's endangered by Hellenic pandemonium one week, and by Egyptian chaos the next - should I expect some Norse trouble in the near future? (I'd read that.)
In any case, I'll keep an eye out for the next installment of The Kane Chronicles.

The Last Olympian - Rick Riordan

In this fifth and final book of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, the war pitting the Olympian gods against Kronos and his allies is in full swing. The legendary (and legendarily powerful) monster Typhon has escaped and is wrecking havoc all across America; Percy finally reads the full Great Prophecy that's been hanging over his head since the first book; and eventually everyone - allies and enemies and everyone in between - converges to Manhattan for the Epic Final Battle.
Of course, since this is a final installment and there's an Epic Final Battle, deaths are a-plenty (which is only to be expected, really).
It was very good; as with the previous installments of this series, I found it hard to put down the book once I'd started it. So yes, I do recommend it; in fact, I'd even recommend reading the entire series. Come on, there's Greek mythology involved!

18 Jan 2011

Delusions of Gender - Cordelia Fine

How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference
As might be inferred from the second title-thing of this book, the entire premise of this very interesting 239-page-long read is that

  • seriously peeps, gender essentialism is sexism; menfolk and womenfolk are not monoliths;
  • the differences between "male" and "female" brains are really pretty tiny, and mostly exaggerated by people who report them (which, btw, includes not only The Media but also the scientists who publish the results in the first place),
  • and in any case, most of these differences (such as different neurotransmitter secretion levels) can be explained due to brain overall size, which makes neurons act slightly differently so that the end result'll be the same;
  • the slight differences between female and male cognitive performance (which are, let me stress this, SLIGHT) can mostly be explained by psychological phenomena and "subject priming", and NOT by any innate biological eternal truth;
  • wow, as a society we put SO MUCH emphasis on gender and sex (as in genital organs, not activities), it's a bit impressive, honestly. But not in a good way.
  • Also, we do not live and grow in a vacuum; we're exposed to messages from the media, explicitly from what people say, and implicitly from how people act and react all the time - it's bound to have an effect on our self-perception and on our own (and children's own growing) psyches.
Or, in my own words:
Men aren't from Mars, women aren't from Venus, all of humanity is from Earth (you buffoons). And people who persist in trying to justify their sexist beliefs with pseudoscientific, neurosexist crap are total assfaces.

Seriously, this book combines neuroscience, psychology and anti-sexism (it is both anti-misogyny and anti-misandry) in a way that's interesting, thought-provoking and funny all at the same time. You really should read it.

Oh, and it's decimal classification number is 612.82, so it's about Applied Science - Medical Science - Human physiology? Or at least, so it is according to my public library.

10 Jan 2011

Out of Our Heads - Alva Noë

Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness
In this slim book, philosophy meets neuroscience and it is argued that the mind does not reside in the brain, but rather in the interactions between brain, body and world.
It was interesting.
And the cover art's pretty awesome.

9 Jan 2011

The Alchemyst - Michael Scott

This first book of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series is pretty good.
It depicts an interesting world that takes place right now, in the beginning of the twenty-first century (cell phones! Laptop computers! iPods!), and that mixes mythologies of various traditions (Egyptian goddesses, Celtic legends, the ever-popular Atlantis trope and the Norse world-tree of Yggdrasill all make an appearance) with the usual YA fantasy novel landmarks: our protagonists, Josh and Sophie, are two fifteen-year-olds twins, they are the Chosen Ones (okay, the prophesied ones), and they have out-of-this-world amazing magical potential. Also, their mentor is Nicholas Flamel, you know, that super-famous French alchemist who also had a mention in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, if you're American.
I liked it; I think this series has a lot of potential for character growth and complexity, and come on, there's mythology involved! Plus, the cover art's pretty cool. It even looks good on my battered softcover public library's copy!

2 Jan 2011

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Again, this final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy was a true rollercoaster of emotions; I feel drained out. Which is great praise indeed for a novel!
It's only while reading this book that I truly understood that everything takes place in the future, and I thought that Panem's society was very television-centric indeed (seriously, someone could probably build a Master's thesis on the role of media in science-fiction aimed at teenagers, and this series would be a big chunk of that thesis. Along with Westerfeld's Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras series. Hey, maybe I should write that thesis? Nah, I like science too much to change fields.).
Anyways, the war that pits the rebelling districts against the Capitol (and more to the point, its creepy president Snow) is well under way, and I think I'll leave at that because I could be so SPOILER-RIFFIC right now it's not even funny.
Oh, and I also love how Katniss (our ass-kicking protagonist) is a more than excellent lead character: she is strong, she is three-dimensional, she undertakes character growth, she has her flaws and weaknesses, and still in the end you can't help but  root for her. Even when she makes what you just KNOW is the wrong decision.
Ok, enough rambling: this book is excellent, a great cap to an amazing series, and I absolutely will re-read this trilogy several times in the future. It's just that awesome.

1 Jan 2011

Skinny Bitch - Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin

A shiteous book.

What, do you want my reasoning behind my three-word verdict? Ok, here goes:

  • It's based on a flawed premise, right on the first page of the first chapter: "Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat." No, these things aren't equal; if this were an equation, I'd say they've tried to divide by zero somewhere, and only Chuck Norris can divide by zero.
  • "There is nothing in soda that should be put into your body." FALSE. Water's good, and you need sugars because hey, that's your body's energy source. Sure, it doesn't make you skinny, but who - oh, right, the whole point of this book is that skinnyness is what you're reaching for.
    • Also, just BY THE WAY: you don't need to drink eight actual glasses of water a day, you get a huge part of your water through your food anyway. So yes, water drunk in carbonated sugared beverages still counts as water. Proof.
  • Tons of paragraphs are lifted from PeTA propaganda. No kidding here.
  • I don't take issue with profanity (I love it!), but I do take issue with how this text keeps insulting, degrading and verbally bullying its readers. I did not appreciate being called a "lazy shit", a "fat pig", being told that "[I]'ll be fat forever" if I didn't stop drinking coffee or eating acid foods (Dude, I love pickles, sod off), being told to "suck it up" and not take painkillers for my menstrual cramps, or even being told to "drag [my] cankles" to a health food store. All in the first chapter.
    • I really hate the world "cankles". It's like "moist"; it's very creepy.
      • On a sidenote, Blogger's spellcheck doesn't recognize "cankles" as a real word. Hah!
  • Out of the ten chapters that I read (seriously, I just couldn't take any more of it), I got a distinct pro-eating disorder feel from this book, especially pro-anorexia attitudes. 
    • They recommend "periodic repeated fasts", and "the longer the better" (see p. 132)
    • I was especially creeped out when they describe the point where you're so hungry you don't feel your hunger anymore, and they call it feeling "light, clean, pure, and divine." (p. 133)
    • On top of that, they give the reader some bullshit about how during fasting "the aging process is actually being reversed" (p.135). Last time I checked, you didn't turn into Benjamin Button by depriving yourself of sustenance, so FAIL.
It's a loathsome pile of fetidness indeed.

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

I started this second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy five hours ago - and I've been (figuratively) glued to its pages ever since.
UNLESS YOU'VE READ IT, in which case you would have an idea. It's amazing, isn't it?
Intrigue, action, violence, a rebellion against the Capitol, personal drama, character growth, present-tense narration, and ALL-AROUND AWESOMENESS; this book has it all. And sprinkles of more.
asdkljfaksofkf; I'm incoherent in my excitement.

I really wish I could be more articulate about every single detail that made me love this book SO FREAKING MUCH, but that would be rather spoilery. And really, you should read the book yourself; you really, really should.